In a single April evening, in a small-town high school football stadium in the hills of West Virginia, 18-year-old Haley Johnson’s prayers were answered.
Standing in a revival service crowd of 3,000—in the midst of a move of God sweeping across the region—she watched seven of her friends repent of their sins and receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Tears of joy filled her eyes and streamed down her face.
“I cried for hours and hours,” said Haley, a senior at Mingo Central High School in Delbarton, W.Va. “I had been praying for them for so long. Now I’m seeing so many chains being broken in their lives, and they’re praising God like they’ve been going to church for years.”
Testimonies like that have been surfacing on a daily basis for more than two months— especially among youth—as revival rolls through the coal-mining area in southwestern West Virginia where the Hatfields and McCoys feuded in the late 1800s, where poverty and drug addiction have been strongholds for so long.
But Mingo and Logan counties (combined population 63,000) are also home to hundreds of sold-out saints who have been crying out to God for decades for authentic revival that would rescue the perishing and ignite a wave of repentance and renewal.
An estimated 3,000 salvations had been recorded by mid-May in what is being called the Appalachian Awakening. Services started on April 10 at Regional Church of God in Delbarton. Tennessee-based evangelist Matt Hartley originally was scheduled to hold only three nights of services at the church, but those plans quickly changed, especially after God moved powerfully during Hartley’s visits to local schools. Evening services were moved to larger venues in the area, drawing up to 1,750 people, including from as far away as Texas and Florida. People from dozens of countries have watched via live webstreams.
“This is a true awakening in our young people, in families and in our churches,” said youth pastor Katie Endicott. “It’s not limited to just one group or one denomination. It’s taking place over an entire region, in about every subset that you could imagine.
“People who have been completely dead in their sin have given their lives to Christ. I know a young lady who had backslid and had not been to church in 13 years who has been affected. The Holy Spirit woke her up at 4 o’clock one morning and said, ‘I want your life. Surrender your life to Christ.’ She did, and there has been such a huge change in her.”
Even before the services began, there were tremors of awakening in area schools.
About 40 students spontaneously gathered in a hallway at Logan High during lunch time on March 24 to hear junior Skyler Miller preach. Skyler is well-known throughout West Virginia because of his battle with leukemia in recent years, which was widely covered in the media. His healing and return to the Wildcats football team was an encouragement to many.
Skyler said he had sensed for weeks that God was leading him to preach impromptu at the school, and that the direction was very clear on March 24. He said he didn’t realize at the time that it marked the third anniversary of his original leukemia diagnosis.
“When God tells you to move, you’ve got to move,” Skyler said. “As Christians, if we could all be more bold and just step out in faith, I think revival would break out more.”
Skyler preached for only a few minutes from the Book of Nehemiah about the importance of having walls in our lives to protect us from attacks of the enemy. He said he gave an “altar call” and that around 10 students accepted Christ right there in the hallway. Photos of the gathering eventually went viral on social media.
“That was the talk of all the local high schools and churches,” Endicott said. “People were so encouraged by Skyler’s bravery, and they began praying out for the same kind of hungry heart that he has.”
Two and a half weeks later, Hartley came to town for revival services. He preached on Sunday night, April 10, then spoke the next morning at Ambassador Christian Academy, where God moved so powerfully that he was invited to speak to the prayer club at Mingo Central High the following day.
Endicott said 75 students typically attend the prayer club meetings, but that around 400 showed up April 12 despite the short notice. Hartley held nothing back, challenging Christian students to witness to their classmates and inviting unbelievers to come to Jesus, resulting in about 100 salvation responses.
Hartley also spoke bluntly about what the Bible teaches about homosexuality and gender identity.
“It was unlike anything we’d ever experienced before,” said Aerianna McClanahan, a 17-year-old junior. “You could tell the words he was speaking really connected with everybody in the crowd.”
Hartley’s message that day eventually drew the ire of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sent a threatening letter to the Mingo school district, claiming that it was unconstitutional for the school to allow religious preaching by an invited guest on school property during classroom hours.
Local school officials prohibited future such meetings, but that hasn’t curtailed students from gathering voluntarily at flagpoles for group prayer and from dozens more huddling in gymnasiums to pray and sing worship songs.
“I believe the majority of our school has been moved and touched by God,” Haley Johnson said. “Other kids don’t bash you for going to things like revival services anymore. It’s the cool thing to do now. Last year, there were fights and hating on each other, wanting to get into bad things. Now all you hear is ‘Let’s go to revival’ or ‘Let’s read our Bibles.’”
Regional Church of God pastor Mitchell Bias, who originally invited Hartley to town, said of the movement among youth: “This generation is so desperate and broken. They are hungry for truth. My personal opinion is that many have not known the truth about God and what happens after they die. But when they hear the truth, it resonates with what He already has put inside of them.”
Local believers are praying that the revival will spread throughout West Virginia and all over the nation—with one important caveat.
“We fear the Lord and don’t want this to become a novelty,” Bias said. “We’re trying to stay out of the limelight. Only God gets the glory.” ©2016 BGEA